Captivated by Virtuosity: Fitness for Dance

“Dancers are athletes. They run, lift, twist, leap, and dodge. And, unlike most sports or martial arts, they must often place aesthetic and choreographic considerations above safety (look at rolls in modern dance compared with Aikido rolls; one is designed based on an aesthetic, the other is purely functional and safety-oriented). By delving into a study of pure athleticism I will be ignoring aesthetic and artistic considerations until my body, or my instrument, is actually ready to be used for expression.

For dancers out there who read this, do you feel that your dancing gives you enough fitness to meet the challenges of the field? If not, what else do you do to stay in shape? For non-dancers, what are some ways that you measure athleticism? Please do let me know−I am very curious!”

Luke Reid-Griassia, on our blog “An Early Spring”

Dear Luke,

It is perhaps strange that as a dancer, I did not start to consider myself an athlete until recently. For me it stems from high school when sorting yourself into certain social groups was really important, and I fit in with the artistic groups much more than the “athletic” groups. When I finally ended up taking P.E. online my senior year, (with a heart monitor that allowed me to “upload my workouts” to the virtual classroom) it was my first visit to an actual gym. That was a good experience, however, because I began to integrate cardio and weight workouts into my 30+ dance hours/week routine.

For that class, there were very specific fitness standards and goals that I had to meet to earn credit for the course. There is really no mandated system of measurable fitness standards for dancers (or maybe there is, but it is not enforced through school or company assessments, etc), and maybe that is to our own demise. We love to throw around the word cross training, but we mean it in reference to Pilates, Yoga, Gyrokinesis, Floor Barre. These all allow you to target specific areas and specific strength building challenges, but don’t deliver so much in the overall fitness and cardio category.

I have definitely noticed my lack of cardio/endurance since returning to dance from a torn ligament, and I think that your ideas about how important this is for dancers is spot on. I am going to write more about my own injury recovery in a separate post, but one of the main things I am still struggling with is moving quickly and breathing efficiently. These are both things that swimming and regular elliptical workouts would really help. Yet, unlike some of my classmates, I just can’t find the will to jog around in 30 degree weather or pay the $300 fee for use of Northeastern University’s gym…maybe we can talk more about will power and motivation another time.

Modern audiences, dancers and non-dancers alike, are attracted to fast paced, athletic, physically demanding movement. For the most part, our fast-paced world is captivated by virtuosity; split second turns, unexpected level changes, and so on. These things get a bad rep as “tricks” but they are not always without artistic merit; quite the contrary, these can be truly breathtaking in emotional, artistic, and physical ways. As dancers looking for work, it’s important to be able to deliver these feats alongside deep artistic expression. However we rank aesthetic/choreographic considerations compared to functional realities, we seem to be trying to defy limits of all of these criteria in the name of art. …I digress.

Bottom line,  if you can’t make it 30 minutes on an elliptical, it’s not likely you are going to make it through a 3 hour Sleeping Beauty, nor a 20 minute Doug Varone piece, or even your classmate’s 15 minute student choreography project. You may be able to pull it off, but if you’re like me, you’re gasping in the wings and wishing you had your inhaler…Luke, I think you’re off to a great start and we could all take a page out of your book.

-Rachel

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