Road Test: Cool Options For Hot Workouts
Five New York City dancers try out exercise programs to boost their technique.
Dancer: Cheryl Sladkin
Instructor: Tony Morales
Cheryl Sladkin, a freelance dancer who was born in Thailand, trained at the Washington School of Ballet and currently works with DanceGalaxy, among others. Having tried many body conditioning techniques, she was curious about Gyrotonics. “I noticed a difference in the first ballet class I took after my first workout,” says Sladkin. “I stood in first position for pliés, and I realized, ‘Wow, I feel really open and relaxed.’ This feeling carried its way through the entire class, giving me an improved sense of flexibility and strength.”
Gyrotonics is an exercise system using machines devised by Juliu Horvath specifically for dancers. “Gyrotonics is basically stretching and strengthening the body,” says Tony Morales of Circular Power Inc. “The machines work on articulating the joints through their fullest range of motion. In that way the muscles that are attached to the joints are also being used to their fullest capacity.”
Sladkin likes the way the exercises engage the muscles of her back and lower body. “[The machines make you] reach out and not be afraid to reach,” she says. “You build your muscles in extreme positions rather than confined positions. Of all of the forms of supplemental exercise that I have done, the fluid movement choreographed in Gyrotonics most closely resembles dance.”
Dancer: Heather Hamilton
Instructor: Gina Papalia
Originally from Miami, Heather Hamilton danced with Dance Theatre of Harlem and is now part of Complexions. Hamilton tried Pilates in her student days, but now that she’s dancing professionally she really appreciates what the technique can do for her.
“Because you aren’t bearing weight [doing Pilates], you’re using springs as resistance, you can warm up quicker and it’s less impact on your body, less strain on your knees, on your hips,” says Hamilton. “That was phenomenal. To work out, get warmed up, target everything, and it didn’t take two and a half, three hours.”
Gina Papalia, her instructor, who has just opened her own studio in NYC, Pilates Downtown, began studying Pilates when she was still dancing. “What I would always use it for when I was dancing was to keep me together in one piece,” she says. “It was great for maintenance because it always brought me back to being very even on both sides.”
Pilates is one-on-one work, and Hamilton appreciated the way Papalia tailored the workout specifically to her needs. “She knew my background,” says Hamilton. “The workout consisted of strengthening. I have a tendency to arch my back and stick out my ribs. So she really worked very hard on my pulling my ribs in, strengthening my center, trying to lengthen out my hips, because I also have a tendency to really use my quads. She took this in and then made a program to work on lengthening and strengthening.
“I noticed a difference within the second week, when I was performing. It was easier to obtain a correct position faster—when you get into a lift, [to feel] more centered.”
Dancer: Naomi Solomon
Instructor: Ben Hendrickson
San Francisco-born Naomi Solomon studied and danced with English National Ballet before coming to New York City, where she now freelances. Most recently she’s been working with choreographer Adam Miller.
As with most ballet dancers, Solomon had some concerns about strength training. “I’ve worked with a trainer before, in a gym,” she says. ”Immediately I was nervous about building bulk, but this was completely different. We didn’t lift any weights. [Personal trainer Ben Hendrickson provided] the resistance to everything. I would lift up my arm or leg and he would push against it. So he could feel how much I needed. Doing that I could concentrate on the muscle group that we were working on.”
Hendrickson prefers to think of his workouts as strength training rather than weight training. “I did a lot of manual exercises, meaning that I would put Naomi in a position where she was mechanically disadvantaged, and by providing a little bit of resistance with my body, I could really work out the joint or muscle group that I was targeting,” he says. “From there we’d go to biceps, triceps, shoulders, chest, back—all the normal things—but a little more dynamic, nuanced and sophisticated than just getting on a machine and pumping out the weight.”
Despite her doubts, Solomon enjoyed the experiment. “I do think that dancers could benefit,” she says. “I learned how weak I was. If you do ballet every day you’re using the same [muscles] every day. When you work with a trainer you’re going to be using something different. I think what benefited me the most was the fact that he explained a lot. Communication is the most important thing for strength training with dancers because they need to understand what you want, what you don’t want and how to deal with things like hypermobility or hyperextension.”
Dancer: Christina Sanchez
Instructor: Gordon Sharpe
New Yorker Christina Sanchez has returned to Complexions after dancing with other companies, including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Sanchez had expectations for her yoga classes: “When I first started, I wanted the kind of yoga that pushed through and would get me warm for a rehearsal,” she says. “But we didn’t do that in this yoga class! We started out with 15 minutes of sitting and breathing. It took me probably two or three times to get used to that. I would sit there and think, ‘Oh, I have a pain in my back or a knot in my neck and I just want to move through this.’ But as soon as I gave in to being still and became comfortable with it, it was really beneficial to the rest of my movement.”
Yoga instructor Gordon Sharpe finds that yoga can have an important impact on dancers. “One of the great objectives with yoga is to strip away misconceptions and illusions,” he says. “The postures are the foundations of the training in yoga, but that work is in conjunction with the techniques of breathing, relaxation and also understanding the mind. It is so important to keep a perspective on what is the real goal of your training.”
Sanchez has noticed that the usual expectations of greater flexibility and balance were not the only benefits she got from the yoga practice. “I definitely felt that my concentration level was much deeper after having taken yoga,” she says. “There’s so much that happens in a day, living in the city and just life situations that come up. Your mind can be filled with so many distractions. Yoga actually just focuses on the breathing—just letting go of any frustration or anxiousness. It really helped me to be still in class while I’m working very hard at the same time. Physically, it helped me a lot, and I think it helped me work in a more intelligent way.”
Dancer: Alicia Graf
Instructor: Catalina Diaz
Alicia Graf began her studies at Ballet Royale Academy in Columbia, MD. She currently dances with Complexions and is artistic director of A Time To Dance. Graf took up water aerobics to augment her daily class. “It’s good because you can take a water aerobics class and convert it to a ballet warm-up,” she says. “Everything they’re doing—like jumping jacks—you can do them turned out, and you’re doing échappés. And you work the right muscles.”
Working out in the pool is excellent for muscle endurance and strength, too. “The best thing about water aerobics is the resistance that you get in the water,” says Catalina Diaz, the water aerobics instructor at NYC’s Athletic and Swim Club. “You get a good cardio workout, you become very flexible, and you really get to stretch further.”
Graf found that the water toned the muscles of her legs well without the impact of running. “It’s good to target muscles without impact,” says Graf. “You can work on your turnout by holding the edge of the pool, like you’re holding a barre, and put your leg in second position. Your leg will just float up and you can work your turnout while it’s up there.” Best of all, “you don’t have to deal with your own weight, holding yourself up. You can really concentrate on the muscles that you’re trying to target.”
This exercise system uses scientifically designed machines to simultaneously stretch and strengthen the body. General information on the Gyrotonics® Expansion System can be found online at www.gyrotonic.com. For more information on Circular Power Inc.®, see www.circularpower.com, call 917-849-8569 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.