GALLERY: My Warm Up Routine before Ballet Class

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When I was 14 years old and changed to a bigger ballet school, I realized that the other students got there before me and were stretching, warming up. Before that, I used to get to ballet just in time, put on my shoes, and rehearse.

Certainly not an ideal thing for a dancer, but when you are young you don't really pay attention to the importance of preparing your body. So there I was, surrounded by my friends chatting while doing theraband exercises, stretchings on the floor, and light core strength repetitions. And me? Nothing.

After this, I established my warm-up routine. I started to get to the studio earlier, and in a few weeks, my new habit became a huge a priority. I realized that I felt better in class and were able to do things easier.

In the beginning, I went to the extreme and established my warm-up time to be one hour long even longer. I have experimented with shorter and longer exercises, as well as different stretches. Of course, now it varies every day according to how I feel. I went then from 45 minutes to 30, and back to an hour, maybe some days even 15 minutes (it also depended on how early I got to the studio).

Now that I am 21 and coming back to class after a huge gap of recovery, I am back with the 45 minutes to an hour routine. I go from the bottom up, starting with my feet and finishing with core and back.

Here are my exercises as for now:

 

1. Waking up the body with rolling the muscles

My foam roller and my little green massage ball have become my best friends. I start by cracking all the bones I can (dancers, you get me). Then, I take my foam roller and roll my back, hips, and legs. This way, I make sure their circulation is flowing. I end this rolling routine with my green ball, first massaging and putting pressure on my hip flexors, any tight areas, and finally the bottom of my feet. Which takes me to the next step.

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2. Feet warm-up

Like Steven McCrae always says: if his feet are not warm, he does not feel ready at all.

Warming up my feet is a crucial part of my warm-up, and I probably take the longest time here (15-20 minutes). With my theraband, I start with my toes and then exercise my ankles in all directions. With my injury, I am focusing on this part much more and make sure I do them correctly, adding some physical therapy here and there.

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3. Calf, hamstring and quad stretches

Oh, legs... It feels good when they are lengthening, and especially before class. I make sure I stretch each and every one of these three parts. Lately, if I don't do these correctly, I feel tight, tired, and with no flexibility, feeling them heavier than they really are. 

*I forgot to take a photo of my quad and hamstring stretches :(

 
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4. Hips and inner thighs

Opening up the hips are also a crucial part of my routine. As turnout becomes harder and harder while I take off my bad habits of dancing turned-in, stretching those inner muscles are such a relief and it will always help you to achieve a better turnout.

Light straddle, grand pliés in second position, froggy or butterfly, and a "meditation position" are great to achieve a good hip/inner thigh stretch.

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5. Back and abs

The core is crucial to keep strong, and I have been on an adventure discovering how I can strengthen it. Moreover, my back is probably the weakest part of my body, so I need to make sure I am ready for my hardest positions: arabesques and attitudes. After doing some torso stretches, I do light abs, light back exercises, and planks.

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Well, I think I covered everything. The goal is to target the whole body. I might do more or less depending on the days, and sometimes I vary the stretches. Overall, these are the targets I focus on before ballet class.

But I want to know how is your routine: what do you do differently and how do you target your body before class?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

5 Reasons Why I want a Second Career

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The old fashion way for dancers was to not go to university, as companies used to hire them pretty young and both companies and dancers dedicated themselves to be successful in their field. In the old times, being a ballet dancer was not considered a low-income career, or an underestimated one. But sadly these days, being an artist is risky.

It is indeed a dream to have a successful, long dance career. And I am working towards having it.

But what happens after you are 40?

The majority of the old-time dancers I mentioned before are either choreographers, teachers, artistic directors, principal couches or ballet masters, producers, theater directors... you name it. The young generation of dancers will not be anything without them. However, for me, these are careers I am not much interested in. Destiny will tell me if I get a job like that after I retire, but right now, these are not my intentions.

I have always had a facility to study, thankfully. I went to good schools and besides the fact that I jumped in between four ballet schools, I had a pretty good dance education as well. But I am a person who loves to learn in both fields, and I do not pretend to stop the habit. 

This brings me to the reasons why I want a Bachelors' Degree when I decide to finish my dance career, and how I would like to apply it:

 

1. I love History, and therefore I want to dedicate myself to this field when I retire

As you may have realized if you read my blog and listen to my podcast, I love to learn and explore Dance History. In case you were wondering what university career path I am seeking, I plan to either dedicate my Bachelors' in Art History, with some extra focus on journalism or communications in order to be able to be a Dance Critic, Historian, do research at theatres, author, journalist,  etc.

 

2. I don't plan to be a teacher

Being a ballet teacher is definitely a way to have extra income when you are dancing, and there are many dancers that are passionate about it and continue to be the best teachers worldwide. I have figured that I do not have the right patience or the ability.

So, instead of going through the Dance Pedagogy path, I plan to apply my knowledge of the art form to educate on a different way. And this brings me to the next point.

 

3. I want to educate audiences

Instead of having a fine patience teach technique, I would love to educate the audience. Spreading the word about art, dance, theatre, and beyond has become an arduous task. Therefore, I plan to build my footprint and challenge myself to educate those who are curious or have no knowledge of ballet at all. This, of course, does not exclude educating dancers about the ballets they are performing.

 

4. I am a learner

Ever since I can remember, I love school. I love starting a fresh school year, buy supplies, sit in a classroom or in front of my computer, and learn. There are so many things in this world we can learn from, and exploring more about my art form is definitely a goal of mine. Besides, keeping my mind occupied whenever I am not in the studio makes me have more productive days overall.

 

5. Flexible studies are available for dancers

Many people have reached me concerned, thinking that I will abandon university plans overall and become a professional dancer. This is not true. As I explained before, I am eager to learn more, and nowadays, it is a myth to think that dancers don't have time to go to university.

And being both is possible!

As a very "rare" example (I always put him as an example), es Steven McRae. He achieved his Bachelors' (Honours) in Business Management, and now he is going for his Masters. Everything with being a Principal Dancer with the Royal Ballet.

And Steven is not the only one. Technology opens many doors for us, doors that allow us to study at our own pace and achieve the same degree as a regular university student. And let's not be concerned about age and graduating "as soon as we can," because there is always time to study.

 

These are, overall, the reasons why I plan to study on the side. I have a long way to go, but while I focus on being in shape, dance with the company, and build my career as a dancer, I can always plan for my "retirement at 40" and "the Plan B"

I am excited for both my Plan A and Plan B. For those dancers that are not sure about their pursuing two paths, you have time! Just remember, universities will always be there, but dance does not last forever.

My Top Dream Roles in Classical Ballet

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Like all the lists I have written, it was very hard to establish my dream roles, especially because I do not have that many.

With principal roles, I say that they really go with my personality and the styles I like the most.

However, I can say that from all the ballets that exist, principal roles are not the only 'dream roles' I have. I rather want to dance in each and every corp de ballet for many ballets and choreographic masterpieces.

(You can read more about my love and admiration for the corp de ballet on my post for The Wonderful World of Dance: Why I admire the Corps de Ballet...)

Here are the principal classical ballet roles I dream of dancing. Who knows... maybe I actually get to dance one of these days!

(Note: These go in order of preference)

 

Aurora - from The Sleeping Beauty

Oh yes... the classic of the classics. Aurora is a very challenging role, not only for the technical difficulties and strict classical movements Petipa and Tchaikovsky's masterpiece include but also how Aurora is, personally.

Naturally, she is the Princess of the Princesses, later the Queen of the Queens. From the moment Aurora enters the stage in that vibrant entrance, she shows her royalty and elegance. Technical challenges are present at all times, from the five-minute Rose Adagio Pas de Cinq, to three variations, to the Grand Pas de Deux. However, I think that the most challenging thing about Aurora is that, while being a young and innocent princess, you have to show that she is, above all, Her Royal Highness.

If I had to choose from the soloist and corp de ballet roles from The Sleeping Beauty, I would definitely go with the Lilac Fairy (or any of the fairies), any of the characters that attend Aurora's wedding, and any of the corps that are at the palace courts.

 

Giselle - from Giselle

With the years, I have loved this ballet more and more. I think from all the characters I am going to name today, Giselle goes along with my personality the most.

Weak at heart, and humble from hair to toe, Giselle is sweet, shy, and an introvert, yet a very passionate and brave character. Her love for dance is present at all times. Of course, one of the things I love the most about her is the contrast from Act I to Act II: a very happy and in-love peasant, to a dark, cold, and dead Wili. And the top of the cherry for this role is the Mad Scene before she dies, which I think this is one of the most difficult challenges for a ballerina.

From Giselle's corps de ballet, the Wilis are also a dream to be part of!

 

Odette/Odile - from Swan Lake

Well, these had to be on this list!

I always say I would be a better Odette than Odile because I think that naturally, White Swan would be easier while with Black Swan, I know it would be a big challenge.

Swan Lake is also a big technical challenge for a ballerina, especially taking into account the counterbalance Odette and Odile have between each other. Odette is fragile, shy, and delicate; while Odile is envious, strong, and extrovert. 

Since I danced this ballet back in Venezuela (in the corps) and some excerpts in Miami, I have loved the swan-like movements and positions; not to mention the beautiful music! I want to repeat the experience of being a swan and/or dance in the character dances from the third act.

What are your dream roles in classical ballet? Let me know in the comments!

What Keeps Me Up on Difficult Days

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I have written many posts about having difficult days, having very low self-esteem, gaining weight, and being insecure with myself. Yes, dancers are all insecure sometimes, but this time I want to be more positive and write about the things that make me happy.

As dancers, it is very hard to keep ourselves motivated. We need to find the best way we can enjoy life in and outside the studio. We know that hard work will pay off, but sometimes we just have more downs than up.

I am still in the process of having a more positive mindset. These things that I do (or think about) keep me up whenever I am having a bad day, and thus help me in the process.

 

Talk to the people I love

There is nothing like receiving the right messages at the right time. Sometimes, I reach out to the people I know are always there for me: my mom, boyfriend, best friends, my step-sister, and other family members. Maybe just a "How are you today?" or a Skype/FaceTime call will make my day. Most of them are very far away from me: Venezuela, Spain, England, or another city in Florida. So reaching out always makes me feel good.

Read a book

Even when I take such a long time to finish a book, it is one of my favorite pass times. I enjoy relaxing on the couch or bed and living the story I have in my hands. Just like performing a character on stage, you can live in another world for hours when reading a good book.

Look for inspiration through watching videos

Watching ballet videos are always an amazing way to get inspired (especially when they are Royal Ballet videos... or World Ballet Day). My generation is blessed with technology, so I take advantage of YouTube and my Royal Ballet DVD Collection to sit down and watch my idols perform.

Learning something new

Also, apart from reading novels, I enjoy reading books to which I can learn from. For instance, I am now reading "Apollo's Angels" by Jennifer Homans (History of Ballet) and "Writing Tools" by Roy Peter Clark. I take much more time to finish these, but I love the learning process.

Think of my strengths

A dancer has to learn about his or her abilities and weaknesses to make the most out of them. I might not have long muscles, a good arabesque, turnout or coordination for my turns, but I do have flexible feet, the ability to jump very high, and stage presence. These are the things that make me unique as a dancer; so whenever I feel frustrated with my weaknesses, I try to think of these things while still breaking down those that are harder for me.

Distraction: Whatever keeps me occupied or "doing nothing"

Since I moved alone, YouTube has been a good pal. Sometimes you will find me watching my favorite YouTubers' vlogs, Kathryn Morgan's ballet videos, a certain tutorial or The Royal Opera House's interviews and insights of rehearsals. I am very slow when catching up with Netflix, but it serves as a good distraction. Scrolling through social media, Pinterest or Tumblr are some spare time things I do for a distraction as well. Sometimes "doing nothing" is all you need to relax.

Cooking and tiding

I do like to spend hours in the kitchen cooking my food for the week. This way I know exactly what I am putting in my body while relaxing during the cooking process. Also, I recently discover that tiding up my workspace, my ballet bag, my room, and the kitchen itself puts me in a very good mood. I am more relaxed when I see everything organized.

Coffee

A good coffee always makes me happy!

Journaling and planning

This is a new habit that I have been doing since last summer. A year ago or so, my friend introduced me to the Bullet Journal, but it was not until last July that I discovered how the system works and the whole community behind it. Every night, you will find me planning for the following day, week or month while having fun with color pens, markers, journals and all stationery alike. I will take you through my planning process in a future post!

Last but not least: Writing!

I am very glad I discovered my love for writing back when I was 16 or 17. I had a few years with my blog in Spanish, but never thought it could become more than a hobby. Writing a blog post, editing an interview, and writing for social media (everything but writing essays for school) put me in an excellent mood.

What are the things that help you on difficult days?

My Top 5 Favorite Ballets

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Deciding this list was as hard as choosing my Top 15 Ballet Dancers.

Although I do love watching many ballets and choreographic masterpieces, there are five classics I enjoy watching the most.

What I love about these ballets is that every time I watch them, I end up noticing or learning something new. This can also be due to the fact that I love watching the different approaches every dancer has to the characters as well as the different productions out there.

Moreover, I think these ballets go with my personality. I go along with the romantic stories. I am more of an Odette than an Odile, more of a Giselle than a Kitri and definitely more of an Aurora than a Gamzatti.

 

5. Pugni's Grand Pas de Quatre

This is a historical masterpiece.

Maybe you already saw on my Gene Schiavone photo shoot how much I love this romantic ballet... The Grand Pas de Quatre is rarely known by the young generations of today, and it is something I could still not understand because both the choreography and the story behind this piece are genius.

Joining the four most famous and big ballerinas of the era and creating a choreography that shows the best of their abilities is quite a masterpiece. Yes, the ballet might be old or boring for many, but we have to understand that 1845’s abilities were not the same as the millennials’ and that, after all, this ballet has a huge reputation in ballet history.

Numerous turns and large extensions were not a big thing on Taglioni, Grahn, Cerrito, and Grisi’s era; instead, delicate port de bras, low arabesques, romantic poses and petit jumps were the novelties.

 

4. Cinderella

Prokofiev’s music tells the whole story by itself.

Cinderella is one of my favorites, and mostly because I got the opportunity to dance the principal character. When I was 11 years old, the time to play Clara at the Nutcracker was coming. But instead, I got into knowing this ballet from within when I got cast as Cinderella.

There are many versions I really want to get into (future homework): Ashton’s, La Scala de Milan’s, and Christopher Wheeldon's. Prokofiev created the piece between 1940 and 1944, and it was first choreographed for the Bolshoi Ballet in 1945. It has indeed inspired so many new choreographers to create brilliant productions and take you beyond the Disney Cinderella we all know.

 

3. Swan Lake

Swan Lake had to be on the list.

Not only because it is widely known by ballet and non-ballet audiences, but also because its story is simply beautiful and Tchaikovsky’s score gives you goose-bumps. I still cannot believe that this music and ballet was a failure at its premiere, but when the four acts were revised by Petipa and Ivanov it was finally performed at the Mariinsky Theatre in 1895.

This romantic tragedy steals my heart every time.  If I ever dance Swan Lake as a principal dancer, it would be easier for me to interpret Odette rather than Odile. The second act is my favorite, but the fourth is heartrending. When I hear the music, I just want to perform it all over again.

[Read my experience in My First Swan Lake (with 15 years old)]

 

2. Giselle

Out of all romantic ballets, Giselle is my favorite.

The contrast between the two acts is stunning, especially if we talk about the huge role the principal dancer gets into with a character like Giselle. Heart-weak and delicate, Giselle is the peasant that steals not only Albrecht or Hilarion's heart but also the audience's.

The Mad Scene is another challenge for the ballerina, showing how Giselle is devastated, heartbroken, driven into madness, and finally dead due to Albrecht's betrayal. The second act, dominated by Mirtha and her Wilis, is a scene I could watch over and over again. I consider Mirtha a powerful character. Giselle changes, but not completely: she still wants to protect the man that betrayed her, and this is what makes the ballet stand out. She maintains her feeling even though she turned into a Wili. Genius!

 

1. The Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty? Yes!

Aurora's story is my No. 1 favorite ballet and a dream role of mine. Sleeping Beauty, I consider, is the perfect classical ballet. Everything has to be technically impeccable, thus there is not a particular style that this ballet possesses: it is pure.

Presented in three acts and a prologue, Sleeping Beauty shows the traditional ballet pieces: numerous variations, pas de deux, and corp de ballets all in one. Moreover, Tchaikovsky's music is perfect and powerful, and after Swan Lake's music, it is my favorite score from him. The Overture, The Rose Adagio, the Wedding Pas de Deux's coda, and Lilac Fairy's score are a few pieces of music that give me chills.

There is no escape to this ballet's classicism, and this is what makes it so special. It will always have a special place in my heart. If you want to watch a pure classical ballet, this fairy tale will never disappoint you.