Beyond the Studio with 4 Pros on Their Intensely Athletic Non-Dancing Hobbies


A career in dance is so demanding, physically and otherwise, that it can be tempting for dancers to dance, dance and just dance. It’s not uncommon to avoid other physical activities, whether out of fear of injury, lack of time, or the now-debunked idea that certain activities build the wrong kinds of muscles.

And yet, many dancers who have found other outlets for movement – ​​even beyond those traditionally “dancer-approved” like yoga and Pilates – have found they have a symbiotic relationship with their practice of the dance, each informing and developing the other.

dance review spoke to four artists with unique physical practices about what they learned from them and how they balance them with dance.

Cecilia Iliesiu, soloist of the Pacific Northwest Ballet

How she started: In 2016, Cecilia Iliesiu was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré, an autoimmune disease that caused her to lose her nerve function and, for around five months, her ability to walk and dance. It was by hiking that she began to regain her strength, and eventually it became “an obsession”. Iliesiu now goes hiking or backpacking almost every weekend she doesn’t, sometimes covering up to 20 miles a day. She’s climbed Mount St. Helens twice and researches hikes on her travels to places like Iceland and Spain.

“The hiker dancer”: Ilisesiu has earned a certain reputation at PNB. “I’m known as the rambling dancer,” she says. “Everyone comes to me if they want to hike and need a recommendation.” She took other dancers on introductory backpacking trips and often went on hikes with PNB Director Elizabeth Murphy.

Iliesiu at Hidden Lake Lookout in North Cascades National Park. Courtesy of Iliesiu.

How it feeds his dance: “It really helps with ankle mobility and strength as you push off different rocks and surfaces,” she says. The hike also improved her stamina, she says, and “helped me become more grounded as a person, and it helped me in and out of the studio and on stage.”

Know your limits: Iliesiu says she’s had to fight her perfectionist dancer’s instincts at times when it comes to hiking, especially when she encounters trails that don’t seem so safe. “As dancers, we’re so focused on the goal,” she says. “And the whole point of hiking is to let me get to the top of the mountain, to let me get to the end of the trail. And agreeing not to was definitely a lesson for me.

The power of time away from dance: “During my career, I’ve been very focused on not being 150% into ballet all the time, because I don’t think it’s healthy for me to do that,” she says. “So I feel like the hike is an extension of that choice to step back, because it makes the step back a lot more powerful.”

Constance Stamatiou, member of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Company

How she started: As a child, Constance Stamatiou was always fascinated by martial arts, but it was only in the wake of the pandemic, when she had more time and was looking for a way to stay in shape, that she decided to start taking classes at his local taekwondo dojang. , where her two children are going. Stamatiou also liked the idea of ​​learning how to defend himself after a few scary incidents while touring. She is now a red belt and hopes to have her black belt this summer.

How her dance training helps her: Stamatiou was able to jump several belts (which makes his children very jealous), thanks to his ability to quickly resume movement. “It’s very parallel to dance,” she says. “When I post workout videos on my Instagram, people tell me, of course you can do that, it’s like when you do a hitch kick Weep!

One step closer to his dream job: “I’ve always dreamed of being a stuntwoman, playing a superhero. With my gymnastics background, my dance background and now a background in taekwondo, I feel like it’s the perfect combination.

Building strength and endurance: Stamatiou feels stronger than ever in her dancing, which she attributes in part to her practice of taekwondo, particularly with its emphasis on speed.

The hardest part: “It’s very shocking to break the board with the palm of your hand or your foot,” she said. “It really hurts, and it’s something you just have to build a tolerance for. But I like feeling like a superhero.

Erin Arbuckle, San Diego-based ballet dancer and teacher

Arbuckle organizes half marathons, marathons and ultramarathons. Courtesy of Alyssa Champagne.

How she started: Erin Arbuckle started running as she took a break from dancing as she tried to quit smoking. “It was really hard to quit without having another goal in mind,” she says. So she signed up for a half marathon. For a while, “running replaced that buildup you get with dancing — you rehearse for something, you look up to the show. The races were the show and the training was the rehearsal. When Arbuckle returned to dancing, she continued running. Today, she has done 12 half-marathons, 8 marathons and 4 ultra-marathons.

How dancing helps him get through long runs: “When you feel like you can’t go any further, but you have 3 miles left, that 3 miles feels like 20. And as a dancer, the time of 8 is very ingrained in me, so I Literally count to 8 over and over and all of a sudden you’re a mile and a half away.

How she reconciles running and dancing: When Arbuckle trains for races during rehearsals, she follows a lighter running schedule than typical for marathons, doing short, easy runs on the days she dances and saving her long run for her day off. She sees dancing as cross-training for her running, and vice versa.

Post-marathon rehearsals: On several occasions while Arbuckle was living in New York, she had a morning rehearsal after running the New York City Marathon. Although it was helpful to keep her body moving, she felt “a bit crunchy”.

Courtesy of Arbuckle.

How running improved her dancing: “The first thing that tipped me off was feeling more confident in the harder bits. It was like, ‘If I can run 18 miles, I can do it.’ I learned to pace myself and to breathe.

The freedom to run: “It’s nice to be a little more serious, a little more untamed and sweaty. When I was growing up with ballet, it was like, ‘We have to be delicate.’ It was less about power. It has improved, but it is still very entrenched. So being able to go for a run and come back and feel completely wrecked and gross is a nice difference from being in pantyhose and a bun. It’s a different kind of freedom.

Garnet Henderson, New York-based contemporary dancer and choreographer

How she started: A year after moving to New York’s Inwood neighborhood in 2013, Garnet Henderson discovered the local canoe and kayak club, of which she quickly became a member. Henderson now kayaks, usually on the Hudson River, on a monthly or weekly basis, depending on the weather. On her longer trips, she circled Manhattan, explored abandoned quarantine islands, and kayaked with packs of seals.

The simple satisfaction of kayaking: “It’s a good break from the perfectionism of dance, because everything you do is to move a boat through the water,” she says. “It’s very rewarding, because if you work hard, you move, you get where you’re going. There’s not that frustration that so often exists in dance where you feel like you’re working really hard, and yet somehow it just doesn’t work out.

Henderson garnet. Photo by Steve Harris, courtesy of Henderson.

The demands of the kayak on the body: Henderson says she quickly picked up on proper kayaking technique, thanks in part to her dance training. She says it’s more of a full-body sport than people realize – you use your legs to stabilize yourself – but with its main focus on the upper body, it’s a good balance for her practice of dancing, which primarily challenges her lower body.

Mental health and cross-training benefits: “Kayaking is an endurance activity. It’s not super intense, it’s that kind of long, low, slow cardio that’s good for reducing stress,” she says, adding that it’s useful for training for longer jobs. “It’s also a very nice active recovery, and I like the chance to be outside.” She says some of her toughest kayak trips, where she battled the current and wind for hours, built “a certain degree of mental toughness that translates into dancing.”

Henderson paddling the Bronx Kill in New York. Photo by Isabelle Chagnon, courtesy of Henderson.


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