Over the course of my career, I’ve learned that, for a ballet dancer to perform at their best, dance training must become a lifestyle; it’s the reason we train so rigorously from such a young age. And though our knowledge of our bodies enables us to tailor our training to suit each of us specifically as professional dancers, continuous maintenance of our technique is pretty paramount. Most importantly, for any classical dancer, it’s worth remembering that each one of us is different.  Rudolph Nureyev is quoted as saying:

When I miss class for one day, I know it.  When I miss class for two days, my teacher knows it.  When I miss class for three days, the audience knows it.

I am inclined to interpret ‘class’ more generally. For some dancers, technique class is an absolute must, whenever possible – myself included. But that is because I have learnt that my body desperately needs co-ordinational skills practice as often as I can get it!  For others, barre may be sufficient for some days, perhaps along with other forms of exercise such as pilates, running or yoga. In any case, the classical dancers that are successful in our industry do not leave their preferred method of staying on form to chance; it is a meticulously curated schedule that has been honed from all our experiences from school, private classes and summer intensives, to that spin class we accompanied a friend to, or the reformer pilates a colleague recommended.

Pre-professional training

So when it comes to training effectively, I believe that, while still at school, a young dancer’s focus should centre on following the discipline of their chosen school, while broadening their understanding of the industry’s demands in ways such as watching productions of ballet companies from all over the world (hello, social media) and attending events that expose them to a variety of teachers, with different backgrounds and experience. In this way, though the aim of student training is very different to that of a professional dancer (see below), both are based on taking in everything you can so you can be the best dancer you possibly can.

As a student, myself, I trained principally in the Vaganova method at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. This particular style of training worked wonders for me and provided me with the foundations I have built on to carry me through into the industry. There are a myriad of reasons as to why this specific route was the right one for me and, understandably, it is not the way for every dancer. Styles of ballet training differ hugely, so it’s more than necessary to educate yourself about the variety of school systems out there in order to decide on which path will help you the most (read more on this, in How To Identify the Right Ballet Training for You).

 

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Professional training

During my years of training, I realised certain stretches and methods of keeping at my physical best were more beneficial to me than others. As a pro, I’ve now figured out the best training methods for optimum output. My approach to training is obviously very specific to me, but I’ve listed the key aspects of it below for you to take inspiration from.

Pre-training stretches

Stretching, for me, is a fundamental part of my warm up before technique class; it prepares my muscles for the exercises ahead, maintains flexibility and prevents injury by making sure my joints are moving to their maximum capacity. I aim to be in the studio, warming up, roughly an hour before the start of class.

Over the past few years, I have developed my own warm-up routine, which focuses on articulating the joints, stretching the muscles associated with leg movements devant, à la seconde and derrière, and strengthening the abdominals. I find that taking the time to stretch properly in my warm up really helps me mentally prepare for the day and remedy any aches and pains I might be  experiencing from the day before.

Technique class

Technique class, of course, is first and foremost training wise. Read more about the relationship between student and pro training, here, and about Russian style training I underwent during my time at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, here.

If there is one aspect of ballet technique class that I find indispensable now, but that was not a huge part of my Russian style training, it is pointe work in technique class. Our pointe classes were separate affairs with very specific exercises. When I feel my pointe work needs a bit of a boost, I practise the combinations from those pointe classes, but I believe today’s industry requires dancers to be comfortable taking centre-work in pointe. I have even dabbled in wearing pointe shoes at the barre, then either removing them for the rest of class or keeping them on, American style, but I’ve returned to barre in soft shoes so I can work on foot articulation that can sometimes get lost in pointe shoes.

Post-rehearsal stretches

After a full day of training, and especially after a performance, my body always requires some attention which, for me, means more stretching. Before I go to bed, I try to set aside 45 minutes to an hour to do the stretches that release the main muscles in the body. The sorts of stretch exercises I save for the end of the day are ones that I find relaxing (I didn’t used to but four years of gymnastics classes at the Academy sorted that out for me!) while also increasing my flexibility.

 

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Other forms of fitness

After much experimenting throughout the years, I’ve found the perfect accompaniments to my daily technique class are hot yoga and cycle classes. The former detangles my mind as well as ironing out those areas of the body dancers usually neglect, while the latter builds great stamina. These add-ons are admittedly not for everybody – and rightly so, each dancer requires different systems of maintaining their technique. Also, the more rehearsals I have, the less time I spend on other forms of fitness.

 The definition, however, of dancers as athletes is not a new one and many of us are adopting this outlook very literally in the ways we train in addition to the traditional technique class. I know friends and colleagues that enjoy pilates, running, cross training, amongst others.

 

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Building mental resilience

Another aspect of training that is rarely mentioned, or even considered as relevant when discussing if you are training as effectively as possible, is mental resilience. From my experience in the industry so far, I find that the most successful dancers have strong determination and strategic thinking which we have developed in the same way as our technique. Positively and proactively engaging with knock-backs, motivating yourself to try new means to a desired end and staunch pursuit of goals are all part of the development of mental resilience.

Eating well

While training at the Academy, I worked out the best way of eating so that I could function to my maximum every day – it is a routine part of my lifestyle that I still follow today. I have always been very aware that diet directly contributes to training effectiveness, though, since each dancer will respond uniquely to different ways of eating, there’s no real right or wrong, but one thing is clear, you do need fuel to maintain energy levels and train and perform effectively.  See this post, Top Tips for Eating Well as a Ballet Dancer, Vegetarian and Foodie, for more on this topic.

If you’ve found this article useful, why not head over to my main blog page for more tips on ballet training, my masterclasses and mentoring and check out my Instagram here.